Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 653
Although descended from prominent Canadian families, Lucy Maud Montgomery considered herself an orphan and outsider. Shortly after Lucy’s birth, her mother, Clara, developed tuberculosis, and the Montgomerys moved to the Macneill farm near Cavendish (the model for Avonlea) to live with Clara’s parents, Lucy and Alexander Macneill. When Montgomery was about two, Clara died; her wake remained Montgomery’s most vivid early memory.
For years, Montgomery’s father, Hugh, traveled on business, leaving Montgomery to be raised primarily by the Macneills. Supposedly, her paternal grandfather, Donald Montgomery, was a talented storyteller, but the Macneills were strict disciplinarians. Montgomery was unhappy, except during visits to a cousin’s farm (the model for Green Gables). She attended the local school (the model for Avonlea School), where she competed for top honors with Nate Lockhart (a possible model for her character Gilbert Blythe).
After Hugh settled in Saskatchewan and remarried, Montgomery, now fifteen, went to live with his new family. Although her comments about her father were always positive, emphasizing his loving treatment of her, she seemed to feel that her stepmother treated her as a servant, making her miss school to babysit her young siblings. She also was homesick for Prince Edward Island, so after a year she returned to live with the Macneills.
A positive result of Montgomery’s homesickness was her poem “On Cape LeForce,” published in the Daily Patriot, a newspaper in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, when she was sixteen. She published several additional poems in other regional newspapers, and her career as a writer was launched, though success as a novelist would come much later.
Montgomery first became a schoolteacher. She attended Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown, completing the two-year teacher certification course in one year. The next year she studied literature at Dalhousie University in Halifax. During Montgomery’s first teaching job, in a fishing village, she was briefly engaged to someone she later said she respected but did not love. The next year she taught in a farming community, boarding with the Leard family. Montgomery fell in love with their son, Herman, but considered the match unsuitable. Herman’s death from influenza two years later may have inspired the account of Anne’s despair when Gilbert nearly dies of influenza in Anne of the Island (1915).
Montgomery returned to Cavendish after her grandfather’s death in 1898. When a cousin agreed to live with her grandmother, however, Montgomery moved to Halifax and worked for the Echo, the evening edition of the Chronicle, from 1901 to1902. Although she enjoyed newspaper work, she eventually returned to Cavendish to care for her ailing grandmother, remaining there until her grandmother died.
In Cavendish, Montgomery met the local Presbyterian minister, Ewen MacDonald, to whom she became engaged in 1906. They did not marry until 1911 because Montgomery refused to leave her grandmother. Shortly after their marriage, MacDonald accepted a post at Leaskdale Manse in Uxbridge, Ontario where their three children were born: Chester Cameron in 1912; Hugh Alexander, stillborn in 1914; and Ewan Stuart in 1915. The family remained at Leaskdale Manse until 1926. Ewen MacDonald began suffering from depression and left the ministry in 1935. The couple then settled in Toronto in a house Montgomery called Journey’s End.
Montgomery received many honors. She was the first Canadian woman to join the British Royal Society of Arts, she was a fellow of the Literary and Artistic Institute of France, and in 1935 she became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. In 1937, Canada honored her by creating the Green Gables Heritage Site at the Prince Edward Island National Park.
Despite Montgomery’s publishing success, her later life was difficult. Like many of her contemporaries, she was deeply disturbed by World War I, but more significant were her copyright battles with the L. C. Page Company and her husband’s continuing mental problems. On April 24, 1942, she died of congestive heart failure. In 1943, Canada declared Montgomery a person of historic significance.
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